What You Need to Know About Anti-Spam Laws Around the World

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As digital marketers, we must be aware of the ever-changing regulations that will influence our clients’ advertising. While many of the companies we work with are based in the U.S., some of them have an international reach. We have written before about US email spam law and how to not be a spammer. But recently there’s been quite a bit of media coverage about Canada’s anti-spam law, which highlights how complex the matter can get. So let’s take a look at anti-spam laws around the world and see how they compare to US law.

Canadian Anti-Spam Law

The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL for short) went into effect in July. Even if you don’t have a presence in Canada, this is an interesting piece of legislation to decipher. You never know when something similar could be passed here in the U.S. What is CASL?

First implemented in 2014, it’s the strictest legislation of its kind. The law concerns all electronic messaging – think email and text. Although with the rise of AI, it could extend to Facebook and Twitter messenger bots as well. Any organization that sends electronic messages in, from, or to customers in Canada is required to get consent from the message receiver prior to messaging them. There are a few exceptions to this, including when a company responds to a complaint. It’s more complicated than just simply providing an unsubscribe link. In addition to that, you’ll need to provide a statement disclosing any third parties that were used to gain consent, contact info for an agent at your company who can provide further clarification, and more.

So, what are the consequences of not complying? You don’t want to find out. Canada can come at you with criminal charges and fines of up to $10 million (Deloitte).

CASL has been in the news a lot lately and for good reason. The legislation was supposed to take full effect this July, after a generous grace period. Companies who haven’t made the necessary changes to their electronic messaging would have been subject to fines and lawsuits from inpiduals. However, after much protest from businesses, the Canadian government has decided to delay implementation while they have another run-through of the policies.

What You Need to Know About the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL)

EU Opt-In Directive

The European Union has a more relaxed version of Canada’s anti-spam law. The EU’s “Opt-In Directive” was first implemented back in 2002. The legislation is only in regards to direct email communication. It requires a “soft opt-in,” meaning that a checkbox on a website, in-store email signup, or even exchange of business cards counts as consent to receive marketing. However, this is likely set to change in 2018. New legislation is in the works to require a double opt-in. This means that in addition to an initial signup, customers will need to confirm their consent again via a follow-up email.

A new EU e-privacy regulation to expand the scope of electronic communication forms is also in the works. The drafted legislation includes further restrictions on how data can be used. There’s also an opt-in requirement for Wi-Fi tracking, plus mandatory encryption of all communications to protect consumer privacy.

Australia – The Spam Act

Australia’s legislation is very similar to the EU’s, so we won’t go into a ton of detail here. The Spam Act of 2003 made it illegal to send unsolicited electronic messages. However, messages from government, charities, and political parties can be sent without consent. Australia’s anti-spam laws might be laxer, but they are cracking down on encryption. The Australian prime minister recently announced that there will be new laws forcing tech companies to expose data protected by encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

What You Need to Know About Anti-Spam Laws Around the World

Japan – Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail

That lengthy name is Japan’s own version of anti-spam legislation. The act was put into law in 2009 and requires an opt-in to all email communications. Senders are also required to immediately fulfill all requests to unsubscribe. All pretty standard stuff. After a major earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the Japanese government put in place hefty fines to combat spammers who were posing as fake organizations to raise money for disaster victims. Penalties include up to a year of prison time and fines that convert to around $440,000. This country’s regulation is one that you definitely don’t want to violate. Japan is able to persecute spam coming from the U.S. in our own courts (Pierry).

China – Regulations On Internet Email Services

It comes as no surprise that China -a country with strict internet censorship in general- has stringent anti-spam laws as well. The requirements go beyond just providing an opt-in and unsubscribe features. Most notably, the word “Ad” must be in all email subject lines. There is also a long list of restricted content which includes thousands of keywords and topics. For example, “democracy” and “human rights” are a couple of the keywords on there. Violating this legislation can result in large fines, however, there haven’t been very many cases of prosecution to date. Furthermore, the laws are very vague in language. It’s a good idea to be aware of the different regulations, but there’s no need to be scared off altogether from doing email marketing to China. It’s really out of your hands whether or not the Chinese government decides to censor your material (SAMPi).

How do these laws compare to those in the U.S.?

You thought US law was tough on marketers? Not at all. Electronic messaging here in the states is less regulated than in many other major countries. However, it may appear more complex, since legislation also varies state by state.

Fundamentally, as we’ve written before, in the US you CAN send unsolicited emails as long as you provide an unsubscribe option.

Email automation platforms like MailChimp are required to enforce all spam laws, so their guidance is stricter than the law. So, the easiest way to make sure you’re complying is by just using MailChimp, following their guidelines or a similar service.

But, regardless of the laws, providing an unsubscribe option is just good customer service. People who don’t want to be on your list won’t open your emails anyway. Don’t waste your time and money trying to communicate with people who don’t want to hear from you.

Questions? Concerns? Leave us a comment below.

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Since founding Lightspan, Mana has quickly established herself as one of Chicago's leading voices in social media and digital marketing. A decisive problem-solver fluent in five languages, Mana believes in clear objectives, simple solutions and the power of purpose in marketing. Credos: "No excuses" and "Find a way!"
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